A NOVEL ABOUT BEER, BASEBALL, AND LOVE STRONGER THAN DEATH
- Available now on Amazon in paperback and Kindle e-book; or drop a few extra bucks and get it on Bookshop.org to support your local bookstore.
- 45 songs for 45 chapters: listen to the End of Ending playlist as you read.
- 30 minutes of stunning, incandescent conversation: listen to a podcast about the novel for background insights.
Bryant is single-heartedly dedicated to crafting beer that pulls people together, starting with the beer stand he runs at the minor league baseball stadium in Andover, Indiana. Though he’s a long way from his home on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, he’s determined to make Black Fox Brewing a force for good in this small Midwestern city.
When a biology grad student named Estelline walks into his life, Bryant’s purposefulness widens to welcome a blooming relationship. At the same time, Estelline’s research reveals a medical mystery: a group of elderly men are unmistakably growing younger. In fact, they’ve begun training their rejuvenating bodies by forming a baseball team; some are even using their newfound strength to support the threatened migrant farmworker community on the outskirts of town.
Just as Estelline’s work points to the fact that other people in town have stopped aging as well, a stunning disaster throws both her and Bryant into a very different story than they had envisioned together.
Can baseball and Bryant’s beer bring out the best in the people of Andover? And what will Bryant risk to find out if this strange epidemic is not only making people younger, but transforming the bounds of human life? Is love truly stronger than death?
THE END OF ENDING is available on Amazon now as an e-book and in paperback, or buy it on Bookshop and support your local bookstore. Ten percent of earnings from this work will benefit the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in their advocacy for farmworkers in Florida; the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation, which is working to create the world’s largest Native-owned and managed bison herd on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota; and the creation of the Sappy Moffitt Baseball League Field, a new recreational ballpark in the Southeast neighborhood of South Bend, Indiana (more on those organizations below).
This is a story that’s been simmering in my mind for a long, long time, and it’s so gratifying and humbling to have the characters I’ve come to know start to walk around in the world and meet other people. If you’re curious about the people and events in The End of Ending, here are some of the influences that shaped my imagination.
BUT FIRST: In gratitude for your interest in this novel, I have two thank-you gifts: a playlist with 45 songs (one for each chapter), and some swag.
Over the several years it took to write this novel, I began to hear parts of my novel in the music I was listening to. In “The Rising,” for example, Springsteen writes, “A dream of life comes to me / like a catfish dancing on the end of my line.” That’s what I want this book to feel like to readers: a catfish dancing on the end of their line. Here’s a playlist that captures different facets of the human experience that touch Bryant and Estelline and company in The End of Ending.
The gifted designer Stephen Barany helped me develop a logo for the Andover Flambeaus, the minor league baseball team that plays in the stadium where Bryant sells his beer and meets Estelline. I’ve crafted stickers and if you’d like one, just drop me a line (contact info below) and I’ll send one off in the mail. The monogram is based on the A that appears in the Negro Leagues Chicago American Giants and Homestead Grays, and I just can’t get over how cool it is to have that flame shaped like an “f”!
I was born and raised in South Dakota, and much of my family lives there (yes, I’m related to Governor Kristi Noem—she is married to my cousin). Almost all of the names and places in The End of Ending are taken from cities and counties in South Dakota. For example, my dad was born in Estelline and grew up on a farm outside of Bryant; my mom was raised on a farm near Mayfield. If you’re from SD, the names should have a familiar ring—they are a small nod to my home state.
The baseball elements of this story came from a number of beers consumed watching the South Bend Cubs single-A minor league team play at Coveleski Stadium downtown (pictured in the cover). I’m also a player in South Bend’s Sappy Moffit baseball league—it’s amateur ball, but we use wood bats and play to win.
W.P. Kinsella wrote Shoeless Joe, which was adapted into the film, Field of Dreams—talk about a story that ignited a forest fire in my imagination. My hope for THE END OF ENDING is that it serves as a sort of real-life version of what happens in that tale. And just to show that Kinsella’s on the same wavelength, here’s a quote from Shoeless Joe:
“Praise the name of baseball. The word will set captives free. The word will open the eyes of the blind. The word will raise the dead. Have you the word of baseball living inside you? Has the word of baseball become part of you? Do you live it, play it, digest it, forever? Let an old man tell you to make the word of baseball your life. Walk into the world and speak of baseball. Let the word flow through you like water, so that it may quicken the thirst of your fellow man.” —W.P. Kinsella.
I’m constantly doing research on this element of the novel. My beer palate began to develop during the time we lived in Portland, Oregon—Willamette hops makes a cameo in the novel, in fact. Though I’m not a craft brewer myself, I’m friends with some folks who have been serious about it. (I’m honestly afraid that if I started brewing that I’d end up with too much to drink by myself.)
The beer that Bryant brews in this story comes from some of my favorite brews. My favorite beer in the world is from Full Sail Brewery in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon—if I could get it reliably, I’d drink the hell out of their Amber Ale. In the novel, Bryant comes up with an idea for a lager called Daybreaker that draws on coffee and vanilla beans. The idea of a lighter beer—not a stout or porter—that uses coffee flavor came from Schlafly Brewing in St. Louis. I was intrigued by their Double Bean Blonde, which uses coffee beans and chocolate nibs. (That beer is now being crafted by 3 Floyds Brewery in Muncie, so it’s fun to see it making its way north into Indiana.)
I grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and was always conscious of that land having first been sacred to the Lakota. My high school team played against teams from Pine Ridge, and I had several friends and teammates who were, themselves, of American Indian descent. The story of the Lakota continues to resonate with me, most directly through a deeply-felt connection to the land of the prairies and mountains of western South Dakota.
That interest led me to learn about the Carlisle Indian School (read The Real All-Americans for a fascinating tour), and I based the main character’s appearance on this portrait of a student there named Peter Hauser. Hauser played for the Carlisle Indian football team and was an all-American fullback in 1907.
The danger of giving birth is a catalyzing factor in this story, and it is all-too common for women in America. According to Pro Publica, in fact, some 800 mothers die every year giving birth—it’s shameful that America is the most dangerous country in the developed world in which to bear a child.
My wife went into a hemorrhage after giving birth to our second child and required a blood transfusion. We were home recovering from labor and delivery when she started bleeding. We rushed to the ER, and she was admitted to surgery. In a voice that masked a deep level of urgency in a nice tone, the doctor told me that it’s a good thing we came in. It’s an experience that continues to shake me.
Central to this story is the experience of migrant farmworkers, a population I covered as editor of a Catholic newspaper on the southeast coast of Florida. I wrote a number of stories about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), which was leading a boycott of YUM! Brands (including Taco Bell) to pressure the business to pay one cent more per pound for picked tomatoes in order to facilitate better working conditions for farmworkers. The campaign has transformed into a robust and effective Fair Food Program, which is having a huge impact on the industry. I interviewed both Greg Asbed and Gerardo Reyes, who share their experience in the TED talk below.
Despite the progress the CIW is making, the reality is that the people who work in the fields are still vulnerable. Just after I left Florida for graduate school, for example, the CIW uncovered a modern case of slavery, where labor contractors were keeping workers captive in camps near Lake Placid, Florida. They recruited workers, then held them against their will with debt they could never pay off and the use of force.
When I was writing for the paper in Florida, I asked a priest who ministered to farmworkers near Lake Placid to take me around to see the fields and the places where workers were living. We stopped at a store where workers were lined up to use the two pay phones to make calls home to Central America. One labor supervisor observed us there and conspicuously bought us lunch. At the time, I was glad to be able to learn from him. Looking back, though, I can see now that he was making sure everyone there saw us being hosted by him so that the workers would not see us as allies.
My failure to see and share the real story there continues to haunt me. The villain in the novel is based on that supervisor. The tienda, the bus that picks up workers, the supervisors, the labor camp—it’s all an effort to tell a story that I should have told long ago.
In the first half of the novel, Bryant takes possession of an old glass factory and uses the warehouse to set up his new beer brewing operation. Central to the factory—and the plot of the story—is a glass-blowing furnace, a small hut-like structure fed by natural gas vents. Workers would gather molten glass from cribs within the furnace to blow and work it into jugs and jars.
The furnace is based on one in a glass factory in Kokomo, Indiana—here’s what it looks like in action.
I’m a proud graduate of Notre Dame’s Master of Divinity program (in fact, my wife teaches in the program now), where I had the opportunity to take classes with some real giants in theology. While Christian references and characters appear in the novel, they function as background and would not prevent a non-believer from committing to the plot. I’ve written this novel for a mainstream audience so that the story would appeal to more than just the 2.8 billion Christians on the planet.
The kernel from which this story grew is the notion that the most fundamental belief in Christianity—the one thing upon which everything rests—is the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, and that the redeemed will share in that new life one day. Every Christian ever has shared the belief that we will all rise at the end of time and inherit glorified bodies. I’ve tried to take the hope inherent in this Christian belief and present it for a secular readership.